On Tuesday 9 April, I was asked to speak at the AYAD human rights forum at Federation Square Melbourne as a part of National Youth Week. An AusAID initiative, AYAD is a program for young people from 18-30 to volunteer in developing countries. The forum was to inspire young people to use ther skills and passions to create global change. The audience comprised more than 230 passionate young people committed to making a difference to human rights. My fellow speakers – Jessie Taylor, Julie McKay, Brendan Rigby and Dan Ryan – were some of the smartest, influential and compassionate people I’ve met (and oh so tall).
The speakers really were exceptional. Jessie Taylor is my age – she’s a barrister, film maker, refugee advocate, speaker and foster mum to a 17 year old refugee. Brendan Rigby is an education specialist, volunteering in developing nations. Our MC, Dan Ryan was the 2012 UN Youth Ambassador, going on a national listening tour before presenting these issues he heard to the United Nations General Assembly in October 2012. Can you believe he’s only 25?! And Julie McKay, age 29, is the UN Women Executive Director and 2013 ACT Young Australian of the Year. While I don’t want to downplay my own achievements, before I met the four speakers and had only read their bios, I felt rather ill-equipped to speak about human rights. What do I have to do with human rights? Because I’m just a blogger. And blogging is a little narcisstic, right? When the others asked what I was speaking about, I honestly said “I know very little.”
My silly nervousness soon dissipated when I spent some time laughing with my new friends, and listening to their stories. And I thought about how blogging is making a difference – both reaching out to communities and giving voice to those who may not previously have been heard. And while I think blogging is becoming very commercialised and brand oriented and less about the writing, and bloggers are criticised for being superficial, self indulgent and entitled, there are still so many bloggers who are brave enough to share their stories to make a genuine difference to others. And Julie Taylor said in her speech that so many of us are “human rights defenders” just by helping others. So I guess I am too, doing my small bit.
Julie spoke about her time with UN Women, mentioning two women she’d met through her work who made choices to better their lives and also lives of others on a global scale. She said “Never doubt what you can contribute and what you can achieve.” She also spoke of the human lottery – how we can’t help what situation we are born into.
Brendan Rigby talked a lot about how education has made such a difference to the life of one girl in Ghana – and through her determination and her teachers’ beliefs in her, she accomplished more than was ever expected.
Jessie Taylor told the story of how her foster son came to be an asylum seeker. It was a harrowing tale (you can hear it here) and she reinforced that many of the asylum seekers have been through so much brutality that they’ll do anything to escape to have a better life. Jessie said how important it is to inform people of the facts, especially around human rights issues that are feared, to help remove their prejudice. She ended her speech saying “Don’t ever let anyone put fear into you. If you want to create change, do it and do it now.”
After our speeches, we spoke on a panel on stage. We all agreed it is easier to make a difference in a little patch of the world using your own skills. Julie McKay said “offer whatever you can when volunteering” – while she doesn’t feel like she could make a difference on the ground in third world countries, she is good at getting funding from organisations to help the work on the ground. We spoke about fear of the unknown and how once an issue is humanised, fear is allayed a little (Jessie mentioned her Mum not understanding the asylum seekers, but her mind was changed when she met Jessie’s foster son for the first time). We talked about speaking up when you hear misinformation that creates fear. I spoke a little about “othering” and deviated a little from blogging and disability, citing some of the attitudes toward my Mum – “but you’re not black, you’re different to those other blacks”. And I also answered a question about encountering negativity online, saying that sometimes I just have to step back from an issue because no amount of reasoning and education can make a positive difference.
It was fantastic to be a part of this forum – I made some new friends, learnt a lot about global issues and feel motivated to continue making positive change.
AYAD Human Rights Forum speech
I’m sure most of you here are social media users. You’ll be nodding at my frustration when I tell you how tired I am of seeing disablist Facebook memes, homophobic and racist rants, and sexist photos on my social media feed. Just the other night, I got caught up ranting about the Logies and whether ‘best new talent’ is a good way to describe Joel Madden. There is so much slacktivism – like this picture if you care about this sick baby, turn your profile picture pink for breast cancer. The Internet can be a dangerous tool to spread misinformation, accusations and cyber bullying. And it’s easy to get caught up on social media, ranting about things that don’t really matter, like I did on Logies night. But the internet can foster communities, inform and change attitudes.
The rapid speed at which information is created and shared on the internet, and the reach of social media, means the internet is great vehicle for online activism and creating a positive change.
Digital Marketing Ramblings provides the following statistics for social media use in April 2013:
- 106 Billion monthly Facebook users, with an average of 159 friends.
- 500 Million total Twitter users
- 343 Million Google Plus users
- 170 Million total Tumblr users
- 1 Billion total YouTube uses with 4 Billion visits per day.
Digital Buzz Daily says that in one day, 2 Million blog posts are written, 294 Billion emails are sent, and more iPhones are sold than babies born.
It was estimated in 2011, there were more than 156 Million blogs worldwide, this figure has certainly increased.
Blogging is very cheap. It can be done from anywhere in the world, and from computers, tablets and mobile phones.
I believe blogging gives a voice to people who may not have previously had a voice, and may lead to mainstream media publication.
Blogging can offer support to those who may not feel supported in their real life. People with disabilities or in remote areas can connect with others across the world to form a sense of community and shared understanding. It creates strong friendships – one of my friends I met through blogging is here tonight.
I am a blogger. And those two points I just mentioned apply to my experience. I have been blogging on and off since 2001, though been blogging on my current blog Tune Into Radio Carly since December 2009. It is this blog that has made the most difference to my audience and I.
I write about food, live music and Melbourne culture, social commentary and love, as well as working with causes such as Sam Johnson’s Love Your Sister, Donate Life and Sunsmart.
I also write about what it’s like to have a visibly different appearance – because I have a lifelong genetic skin condition called Ichthyosis. It means scaly red skin. I describe the medical and social challenges and triumphs of living with this condition. I use honesty and humour, and always try to put my best face forward online, because in the back of my mind, there’s still fear that my image will be misused.
I show people that it’s ok to look different. I encourage those who look different to feel proud, and those who judge difference to raise their expectations of people like me.
In 2010 I wrote a blog post which was later published on Victorian Government disability website Divine – it was about how blogging gives me the chance to tell my story without the sensationalism that the mainstream media gives to those with disabilities, chronic illnesses and visible differences. I won a Yooralla Media Award for best online commentary, and maintain the belief that blogging puts me in control of my own story today.
My audience varies. Some of my readers visit for the food pictures, others visit to read a band review. There are many readers who write to me telling me they have Ichthyosis and did not realise there was anyone else out there until they found my blog. Others are parents of children with the condition, and my blog (and successes in life) assures them that things will be ok for their children. And then there are people that write to me telling me I’ve taught them or their children about diversity, and even changed their mindsets. Just last week a teacher friend of mine wrote telling me she has used some of my blog posts in her grade 9 class. The posts she used were where I’ve explained situations of bullying and harassment because of my appearance. She told me that the class got a good perspective about what it’s like to look different and that the class bully thought about his previous behaviour and asked for a print out of my posts to read at home.
Blogging has led to many opportunities – which of course in the online age, are globally reaching. This little media career of mine was something I’d dreamed of then studied for, but I’d never expected because of my appearance. I was a finalist in Sydney Writers Centre’s Best Australian Blogs awards in 2011 and 2012 and also received a grant from the Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation to further my writing and speaking. I have been published on mainstream media websites such as Fairfax’s Daily Life, Mamamia, News Limited’s The Punch, ABC’s Ramp Up and in Frankie Magazine. I have spoken on ABC Radio’s Life Matters program about visible difference and the concept of Skin Hunger, on Triple J’s Hack about love and disability as well as employment and disability, and am a regular cast member on Channel 31’s No Limits. My Day Job is a communicator and events planner in the Australian Public Service. I’ve spoken to a range of public servants about being a responsible public servant and social media user. I’ve also been able to educate the genetics and dermatology teams at the Royal Melbourne Hospital (many are International doctors) about the social aspects of Ichythosis as well as how blogging has led to media career. And last year, a university program in England – the Centre for Appearance Research at the University of Western England – found my blog and asked me to review an online program for them which helped young people with visible differences develop confidence and coping strategies, and then invited me to speak at their academic conference called Appearance Matters. I went to England in June last year, speaking in front of around 50 academics and a few patients.
Other bloggers making a difference
Last year a number of Australian bloggers including Eden Riley were flown to Niger and then India by World Vision – and they reported on the living, education and employment conditions of people living in these third world countries. Their stories, videos and photos encouraged many of their readers to sponsor children or donate to World Vision. World Vision told me that over 50 sponsorships have been directly attributed to four blogging ambassadors who blogged from India last November.
Though not a blog, there is a Facebook page called This is what disability looks like. It features photos of disabled people doing every day things. It depicts real people from around the world living with disability.
My friend Gloria Malone has a blog called Teen Mom NYC – she highlights the social and financial issues teenage mothers experience. She is a 22 year old university student who gave birth to a child when she was 15. While Gloria is based in New York, her blog reaches out to andngives voices to teenage parents worldwide. She was recently published in the New York Times, and her article was shared across the world.
And I have friends in the USA who have created a blog called Confetti Skin – all about different forms and experiences of the condition I have – Ichthyosis. They cover personal, local and international issues about Ichthyosis, including most recently, their opinion on the media coverage of a Malawan baby born with the condition.
How you can make a difference
Start a blog about issues you’re passionate about! It’s free and the interfaces are intuitive. You can be a citizen journalist.
If you’re on an aid trip, write your experiences and broadcast them to the world. Give other people a chance to tell their stories on your blog – interview them by video, share their art, music and stories.
Share that blog! Share it on your social media networks. Share your blog with your friends and organisations – the partner organisations here today – that can make a difference.
Read other blogs and comment on them, keeping the conversation going.
I challenge you to leave here and use the internet productively and responsibly. Think about the reach of social media. You never know who may be reading and how you may be helping someone.
You can use your skills, your path and your voice to make a difference through blogging and online activism. Blogging is often a powerful tool for the most unlikely people.
Thanks for having me at the AYAD human rights forum, and a special thanks to Jess from Austraining International for finding me and asking me to speak, and the great communications leading up to the forum. Also, in lieu of payment, a donation was made to Love Your Sister. View more photos from the forum here.
I’d love to keep the conversation going. Tell me of a blog you know that contributes to improving human rights? I’ll share them on my social network platforms.